More than building toilets and wells
In much of rural Myanmar, communal ponds, hand-dug wells and household rainwater harvesting systems are still the main sources of water. Latrines are uncommon and knowledge of basic hygiene and sanitation practices is scant. Between 2015 and 2020, we supported the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Myanmar Red Cross to provide clean drinking water to over 13,000 people and safe, effective, and affordable sanitation facilities to nearly 11,400 people living in three rural provinces at high risk of severe water stress.
Myanmar has performed well in achieving the water and sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals. Access to improved drinking water stands at 84% and to improved sanitation at 77%. However, availability is highly variable across regions. Villages that depend primarily on manmade ponds are at high risk of severe water stress during the dry season, and recurrent cyclones keep damaging the limited infrastructure, causing saline intrusion into water supplies that has aggravated the situation. In much of rural Myanmar, communal ponds, hand-dug wells and household rainwater harvesting systems are still the main sources of water supply. Latrines are uncommon, knowledge of basic hygiene and sanitation practices is scant and open defecation is still widespread.
Between 2015 and 2020, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Myanmar Red Cross successfully empowered 27 rural and peri-urban communities in Myanmar with access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation facilities and good hygiene knowledge and practices. The programme prioritised the central region known as the ‘Dry Zone’ - home to a quarter of the country’s 58 million people – as well as the Southeastern and Northern provinces, because of their high risk of severe water stress.
In addition to working with governments and multiple stakeholders on the establishment of a stronger enabling environment – building the capacity of the Myanmar Red Cross and strengthening its relationships within the institutional framework – the programme achieved the following results:
- 13,126 people gained access to clean drinking water sources, enabling reductions in the time and effort spent obtaining water. 6 new water systems were set-up, 8 existing water systems were reinstated, and 3 new boreholes were built, all using simple but effective technologies that communities can now use and maintain themselves.
- 11,398 people acquired access to improved sanitation facilities and all the targeted communities became “Open Defecation Free”, which means every household uses a functional latrine. To achieve this over 2,278 household latrines were built or rehabilitated and 12 schools were provided with safe, effective and affordable sanitation services that 1,300 students want to use.
- Simultaneously, the safe and hygienic use of water and sanitation facilities was promoted by Red Cross volunteers in schools, communities and individual households through 329 hygiene promotion sessions. The Red Cross participatory approach, tailored to the specific needs of each context, helped people improve their hygiene behaviours and feel empowered to make the changes needed to ensure real and sustainable improvements.
“The impact on the village? It was like a snowball effect. When we convinced the elders, the rest of the village followed. It triggered the community’s desire for collective change and propelled people into action The biggest effort was to start the conversation. After that, it wasn’t difficult to engage people. The advantages to using the toilets were immediately clear to them. Without toilets, they had to wake up early in the morning to go into the bush and then again late in the evening. It was extremely time-consuming and neither easy nor safe.”